Crookston Times Sports Editor Jacob Shames is moving on

Jacob Shames

Not going to bury the lede: today is my last day as the sports editor of the Crookston Times.

I’m not being laid off or transferred or anything like that. After a year and eight months, I’m stepping down entirely of my own accord.

Voluntarily deciding to leave a stable job in sports journalism, especially when in today’s industry those jobs seem to dwindle by the day, is not something I take lightly at all. I don’t exactly know where I’m going next, and I’m privileged in that I have a situation where I can take my time in deciding. Not everybody trying to make a career in this field has that luxury.

In making this decision, I’ve had to convince myself that it’s not inherently selfish to put myself first, and that it’s totally reasonable for my priorities to look different than they did two years ago.

Back then, I just wanted a job. I didn’t fully commit myself to sportswriting until my senior year of college, in which I covered Michigan men’s basketball for my student newspaper. I enjoyed it and I was good at it, and I knew if I didn’t pursue it fully that I wouldn’t be able to live with myself. But I also knew that I didn’t have quite the resume of a typical recent graduate pursuing the same career path. I knew I was going to face rejection, and I knew that if I got any offers, I couldn’t be picky.

That didn’t make the five months between my graduation and my hiring any less frustrating. I questioned my abilities and my decisions many more times than I’d like to revisit. I’m embarrassed to look back at the way I felt sorry for myself, almost resenting others for getting the opportunities that I couldn’t. But I’m proud to say I stuck with things long enough for Mike Christopherson to give me the chance to cover high school and Division II college sports in northwest Minnesota. 

I’ll forever be grateful for that chance.

I’m just as grateful for the athletes and coaches who took the time to talk to me and allowed me to tell their stories. For people like Crookston High School athletic director Greg Garmen, and Shawn Smith and Hunter Plante at UMC, for making those interactions possible. For anybody who’s read my stories or looked at my photos, or ever emailed me or commented on Facebook thanking me for my coverage. Covering sports at a small local paper can be a lonely job, and as much as I’d like to be able to get by without explicit validation for my work, it really does make things a lot easier.

I’ve learned a lot about myself during my time in Crookston, much of which I think is more suited for a personal blog post than a newspaper column. But I have learned this much: I feel much more confident in what I bring to the table as a sports journalist and much more confident in my resume. I’ve long struggled with selling myself and my own abilities, but I think I’m ready to come out of my shell more this time around. I think I’m just getting started in this industry, and it’s time for me to take another step forward.

At the same time, I’d like to do it at my own pace. I’m not as open about it as I’d like to be, but these last 20 months, while formative and satisfying, have also been incredibly mentally draining for me. (COVID-19 certainly hasn’t helped.) I’ve felt overwhelmed at times. I’ve felt lonely. I know I’m not well-suited to spend most of my 20s living by myself, geographically isolated from most of my friends and family. The next job I take won’t be just because I need a job — it can’t be. I want to give myself the time to make sure my next sportswriting job is a good fit for what I want now, both professionally and personally, rather than what I was looking for two years ago. 

That’s part of the reason I’m choosing to step down at this moment. I want to make sure I’m in the right headspace to transition to that next step and do so well. In addition, I owe it to the Times to give them the chance to find a replacement with time to spare before the high school sports grind revs back up again.

What my next step entails, I don’t know yet. First, I’m going back home to Norman, Oklahoma, where I hope to keep writing as much as possible. In the meantime, I’ve been looking for full-time opportunities and will continue doing so. If any editors reading this happen to be looking for a young, driven sportswriter with a love for his craft and a passion for telling stories that go beyond the games themselves, I might be your man.

Because that’s what this is all about anyway. Sports isn’t primarily about the box scores or the wins and losses, but the people that play and coach and watch them and have their lives impacted by them. Sports just happens to be a perfect vehicle through which to tell their stories.

If there’s one thing I wish for as I leave Crookston, it’s that I did those stories justice.